It’s taken me a while to complete this post, as I figured out a way to express what I think without sounding hypocritical. Humor to me is really important, I use humor all the time in relation to my diabetes (as evidenced here, here, and here). However, to me there is a fundamental difference when someone who has diabetes makes a joke or uses humor versus when someone who doesn’t have diabetes does. Where one is socially acceptable and is a benefit of the in-group status, the other can be viewed as insensitive. So this post is not talking about humor as used by a PWD (person with diabetes) or those close to them as a coping mechanism, way to show ownership of their disease, or as a means to live a normal life. Instead, it is addressing the way that humor and diabetes is used by society at large, and the negative implications of these portrayals and statements.
There are a lot of ignorant, misinformed and insensitive people out there. Jokes and comments are made about everything and everyone, it’s just part of life and you learn to roll with the punches. However, I’ve noticed that compared to other illnesses and diseases, diabetes often ends up as the butt of many jokes or is used to get a good laugh. We don’t hear many jokes about cancer, HIV, lupus, heart disease, or MS, so why is diabetes so funny? No seriously, why is it?
|Me at a Cadbury chocolate
factory in England
On more than one occasion I’ve heard people say comments similar to “I’m going to have diabetes when I finish eating this” or something like “I feel like a diabetic in a candy shop”. I’ll admit, I’ve made my fair share of jokes at my own expense. A diabetic in a candy factory? I can understand why people think it’s funny. Diabetes has become synonymous with too much sugar. But let me tell you a little secret, I did not get type 1 diabetes from having too much sugar and sugar is not my enemy. Even type 2 diabetes isn’t caused by simply eating too much sugar. Obesity or being overweight is a risk factor, but other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity, and age also play a role.
Too often people make comments that they think are funny without considering the effect it might have on others. A few days ago, I saw a status on facebook illustrating this point. The status was about a particular college basketball team making it to the “Sweet Sixteen” for March Madness. The status read, “(school’s name)’s so SWEET it just gave me diabetes”. I suppose the person was trying to be clever, but referencing a chronic disease shouldn’t be funny. I know no one is trying to be malicious, but those kinds of comments can still be offensive and not to mention are inaccurate.
And that’s not the only time I’ve encountered a situation like that. I was at the bar when a guy ordered a round of shots for us and some friends:
Me: Wow that shot was really sweet.
Guy: Yea, too many of those and you’ll end up with diabetes.
Me: It’s okay, I already have it so we don’t need to worry about that.
The look on the guy’s face was priceless as he attempted to back track and sputter out an apology. I let him squirm for a little before telling him that I have type 1 and it was fine. But I seriously hope he thinks twice next time he makes a comment like that.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to be an expert on diabetes, but with a total of 8% of the population of the US having either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it doesn’t hurt to be a little knowledgable about a condition that unfortunately is only continuing to rise in the United States (if current trends continue, 1 of 3 adults will have diabetes by 2050). At the very least, we can try to stop the spread of misinformation and myths, many that seem to abound in the media and popular television (that in itself is a post for another day).
|No, Billy probably just has a stomach ache,
a sugar rush, and maybe a cavity.
So again I ask, why is diabetes so funny? Is it because people downplay the seriousness of the disease? (It’s among the top 10 leading causes of death in the US according to the CDC, sounds pretty serious to me). Is it because so many people have it themselves or know someone who does? Is it because it’s often associated with being overweight? Is it because type 2 is often preventable? (Type 1 unfortunately is not). I don’t have an answer. Perhaps humor is an acceptable mechanism or motivator to help people prevent type 2 diabetes, although I seriously doubt it.
But here is what I ask from you. Please think twice before you add the hashtag #diabetes under that picture of the chocolate cake or of you eating the giant ice cream sundae or pile of candy. Take a minute and consider the unintended consequences of what you say before you make statuses or statements like the ones mentioned earlier. Jokes about diabetes can be funny, but just be aware that they may not always be viewed that way by everyone, they also may be hurtful or even victim blaming.
All I’m saying is that to me diabetes isn’t a joke, it’s my life. I think a lot more education and awareness is necessary for people to truly understand what it means to live with diabetes, type 1 and 2. That way perhaps people will be a bit more conscious about the comments they make about diabetes and what effect these comments may have on others.